The children who attend Bradford Primary Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) come from all over the Bradford area, so are ferried to and from the unit by taxi each day. But rather than treating this as a simple matter of transportation, the unit is taking the opportunity to engage with its pupils.
Each morning staff join a number of children on their inbound journeys, which for some are up to 15 miles each way. Hilary Beards, the unit’s executive head teacher, says these journeys give staff a chance to talk through any issues the children may have that day, helping them to arrive at the unit feeling calmer.
It is efforts like this that have transformed the unit from being given a notice to improve by Ofsted, to its current rating of "good".
When Ofsted reported on its visit to the PRU in January this year, there was no shortage of praise for the unit’s "very clear strategies" and "relentless drive" to improve behaviour, attainment and attendance.
Attendance, the inspectors noted, has "improved exceptionally well". In 2008/09 the attendance rate was 73.4 per cent. In 2010/11 the figure was 82.9 per cent.
The unit employs a range of measures to incentivise and nudge pupils and their families towards regular attendance. "We have supermarket vouchers for parents and carers if their child has done well; the children with the best attendance I take out for lunch at the end of the year; and the class with the best attendance has a day trip out of school," says Beards. "We’re doing an awful lot of things like that."
The drive to boost attendance dovetails with the unit’s goal of guiding its pupils back into mainstream education. "We have high expectations," says Beards. "We have assemblies just like a mainstream school and there are clear structured lessons with clear expectations. We’re in the mini-football league with other district schools and we have school rules and sanctions. Our aim is for the children to go back into mainstream school, so we function like that even though we’re a PRU."
One important benefit has been Beards’ dual role as head of the unit and head of Carrwood Primary School, which is located just 10 minutes away. "It’s very much an advantage, not only because we can share resources but because of the work the staff do together," she says. "We do training and staff meetings together. We share the same staff as well. We have the same bursar, the same IT technician and the office staff tend to work together. We very much look at it as one rather than two separate schools."
The alliance between the two also plays a crucial role when the unit’s children are ready to move back into mainstream schooling.
"When we feel children are ready and they want to go back we do sessions at Carrwood," says Beards. "They would go to the school with a behaviour support worker for a lesson in their year group initially and then they might go for a morning. That continues for a number of weeks and then the school they would go back to will be approached and we start the integration process."
- Get all staff singing from the same hymn sheet. "I think that’s been part of the success we’ve had," says Beards. Staff are kept well informed of developments and are also involved in major policy decisions and this, she says, helps them all "feel that they are part of the team".
- Generate a welcoming environment. When children arrive at the unit in the mornings there is music playing. The decoration of the building is also important to creating a welcoming atmosphere. A refit of the unit’s ageing building was an important part of producing this environment. "We had major work done in the second year I was here; we actually moved out into portable classrooms," says Beards. "We only had 16 children here then because it was in such a bad state, we had bats in the loft and everything. It was one of those dire stories. But now it’s a beautiful environment to come into."
- Adopt restorative practices to address behaviour. "It works very well and we use it in Carrwood Primary School as well," says Beards. "We have restorative champions in both the primary school and the PRU."